Everything you need to know for grilling pork chops that are always perfect and never dry.
Pork Chops with Corn Relish
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Pork chops on the grill is the flavor of summer. Unfortunately, dried out chops that taste like cardboard are also the flavor of summer. Which is a shame because pork, more than any other protein, really benefits from the smoke and heat you get from grilling. So how do so many people go so wrong with what should be a no-brainer?

Well, there are some variables that you should be aware of when it comes to this cut of meat. Different chops cook at different rates. Bone-in versus boneless brings more complexity to the party. The fat really wants to burn before the meat is fully cooked, and if not handled properly they can go from perfectly cooked and juicy to a horrible mouthful of super-dry blandness.

Choose your chop

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

First off, please, if you can, try to avoid the super lean chops. The health-conscious may of course prefer to see less fat, but the fat is what provides both flavor and prevents the chop from drying out. You can always cut off exterior fat on your plate post-cooking if you choose.

This also goes for trying to avoid chops that are very thin. These overcook quicker than you can imagine, and as such, don’t spend enough time on the grill to fully get the flavor benefits. Again, when it comes to portion sizing and being aware of healthy eating, you are better off getting one thick chop and sharing it between two people.

Salt your chops

Salting chops at least 2 hours or up to a day before cooking can help both season the meat and keep it moist. I am personally not a fan of a wet brine, as I find it makes the meat watery, and the fat has trouble crisping. But giving salt a chance to fully penetrate helps keep things tastier, and allows your chops to retain their juices a bit better.

Prepare for grilling

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

There are two musts for cooking any pork chop on the grill: an instant read meat thermometer and a willingness to properly rest the cooked chops after grilling.

You also need to know that the days of “all pork should be cooked to completely gray doneness” are over. Medium towards medium rare is the order of the day. You want a warm, pink center. This means that you should be looking for 140-145 degrees internally when you remove it from the heat, and then you must tent it with foil and rest it for 10 minutes for thinner pieces, 15 to 20 for large or bone-in pieces. This resting period both finishes the cooking, bringing them up to proper safe temperature for eating, and redistributes the juices so that they don’t all leak out and make your chops dry.

Grill your chops

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

Be sure your grill is clean and well-oiled.

Basically, you have two methods for pork chops on the grill, one for thin, one for thicker or bone-in. The bones, which can help keep chops moist, also require longer cooking times so your methodology is different. But in both cases, you want to have two temperature zones in your grill. A hot zone over direct gas flame or coals, and a cooler side with no fire. This allows you to better control the cooking times and ensure that the meat cooks through without burning the outside.

Methods are sort of reversed for the two types of chops.

For thinner and boneless pieces, you want a fast cook time. So you cook completely on the hot zone over direct heat with the cover off, flipping every minute and testing temp on your third flip. If you think they are starting to dry out, move to the cool zone and put the lid on to finish the cooking in more of a roasting method until you reach your goal temp before resting.

For thicker and bone-in chops, which cook longer, you want the reverse method. You need the fat to render more slowly, so you start your chops on the cool indirect side, lid closed, flipping every three minutes until you get to about 5-8 degrees shy of your desired temperature, and then you move them to the hot zone to finish getting those last few degrees and some good grill marks before removing them to rest.

In all cases, remove chops as they individually come to temp, especially if you are grilling unevenly sized chops. And be sure to use the thermometer on each individual chop, just because one is done does not mean they all are, and just because we want things a little pink in the middle, we don’t want them raw. No one likes pork carpaccio.

Gild your chops

Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

Sauces and glazes can be a great addition to pork but should be added and cooked on the cool zone, as they will burn and flare up over direct flame.

If you like a marinade, only marinate thin chops for 30-60 minutes, thicker or bone-in chops for 2-4 hours. Try and scrape off as much marinade as possible before grilling. Do not use leftover marinade for basting, it has come into contact with raw meat and should be discarded.

Pro-tip: I often prefer what I call a post-grill marinade. Make the marinade you like best and put it in a shallow pan. When you pull your chops off the grill, immediately place them in the marinade in the pan and turn a couple of times to coat, then tent with foil and rest the chops in the marinade. The hot meat will soak up some of the flavor while resting and you can serve the rest as a sauce on the side.